Lives in India intersect in Arundhati Roy’s long-awaited novel

Once again, Arundhati Roy demonstrates her mastery of exquisite prose, visionary intelligence and a bent for epic storytelling with “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.” She will appear June 27 at Town Hall.

“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”

by Arundhati Roy

Alfred A. Knopf, 449 pp., $28.95

In 1997, Arundhati Roy’s India-centric debut novel, “The God of Small Things,” presenting a strong new voice in fiction, became an international best-seller. This rich, lyrical and magical family saga — also a tale of forbidden love, which takes place in the politically tense state of Kerala — eventually won the Booker Prize. In the years that followed, Roy published a series of essays and nonfiction titles focused on politics and social justice. Many of her fans, however, clamored for a return to fiction. Now, two decades later, Roy has finally responded to their wishes with a second offering, larger in scope and set primarily in Delhi and Kashmir.

The 449-page book is a maze of multiple story lines. It begins in the mid-20th century and spans decades, although the sequence of events is not always chronological. Surreal at times, with poetry and mythology sprinkled in, it is told from the point of view of several protagonists, including that of an omniscient narrator. Once again, Roy demonstrates her mastery of exquisite prose, visionary intelligence and a bent for epic storytelling.

The book opens with people on the margins of Indian society, particularly the hijras. A hijra is a person who is born male but identifies as a woman, sometimes referred to in India as an “in-between” gender. When our first protagonist, Aftab, is born in Delhi, his parents are delighted to have a son. His mother’s joy soon vanishes when she discovers, “nestling underneath his boy-parts, a small, unformed, but undoubtedly girl-part.”

Author appearance

Arundhati Roy

The author of “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” will speak at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 27, at…

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